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Thursday, October 8, 2015

Enjoy the Ride

"I think the thing to do is enjoy the ride while you're on it."
                                                                              Johnny Depp

Sound advice and in theory something that should come naturally. But it seems appropriate to consider the truth of this observation by Albert Einstein:

 "In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice they are not."

The first day rides in Montana and Italy would provide quite a contrast in what, in theory, were to be pleasant introductions to the tours ...

Enjoy the Ride - CGY
Today we rode 59.5 miles from Red Lodge to Absarokee, putting in 1,529 feet of climbing.

The route from Red Lodge to Absarokee
Red Lodge is already at an elevation of 5,500 feet and in just a couple of days, we would ride up Beartooth pass, reaching an elevation of nearly 11,000 feet. My assumption was that this relatively easy leg was chosen to start the tour for altitude acclimation. It was not too long, there was little climbing to do and the first 26 miles were gently downhill. And on this day, we had cool, dry conditions and tailwinds - always welcome on any route.

The ride to the first rest stop at Joliette was flat and fast. We were riding through ranch country and you might imagine cowboys out tending their herds or riding fence lines. In fact, I did see one of these hard working man-horse pairs early in the ride...

I waved, but he seemed not to notice
Heading northwest, we enjoyed some gently rolling hills, sloping up on our left and flowing into a rolling grassy plain on our right. Cattle and hay bales were scattered in the fields and the morning light warmed the landscape with a golden yellow glow.

Fields glowing in the late morning light
A nice series of rollers on the way to our lunch stop
Stopping to take pictures is always a tug-of-war between the questions "Will I stop to capture the moment?" and "Do I want to take the time and interrupt the flow of a good ride?" Along this particular stretch of road, I was presented with another question: "Would my stopping be somehow provocative?"

I was really hoping taking a picture was not provocative
After lunch in Columbus it was a short 13.5 mile ride into our overnight stop - Absarokee, pronounced Ab-sore-key by the locals. We executed the standard "first bar on the right" stop, ending up at a tavern called Chrome. A few other riders were already settled outside and we joined them, watching for about an hour as riders continued to roll in to town.

We finished out the ride, going the last couple of miles to the camp at the local high school where the tents were set up on the athletic field. Even Bill could not find shade here.

Camp in Absarokee
At the evening meeting, one of the CGY staff asked, "Could any of you ever have imagined you would be camping on a high school athletic field in Absarokee, Montana?" My reply was, "Absolutely - it is number five on my bucket list!"

A nice day and I did enjoy the ride.

Enjoy the Ride - Piedmont
Today we rode 26.7 miles from Alessandria to Acqui Terme, putting in 2,598 feet of  climbing.

The route from Alessandria to Acqui Terme
It is pretty hard to ride without a bike but on this day I was beginning to think I would need to figure out how to do it. There was progress and more than a little frustration as I found out that my luggage was located at Heathrow and then had arrived in Linate at about 10:30 am on Saturday morning. However, the luggage forwarding desk had not thought it important to let me know until about 4:30 when they called the hotel and left a message with the front desk, adding they would call back at 7:00 pm to provide information about the courier delivery. I asked the desk clerk, somewhat rhetorically, "Why would they wait so long?" But it was crystal clear to him and he replied quickly, "This is Italy!"

Without keeping you in suspense any longer, my bags arrived at about 7:30 am on this Sunday morning, the day we would set out on our first ride, one that would bring us from Alessandria to Acqui Terme. I unpacked and assembled the bike on the sidewalk in front of the hotel and as I was finishing up, it started to rain. John and Julio received the bikes they had rented from Giro Libero, the company providing us support in the form of hotel reservations and carrying our bags from town to town, and we waited for the meeting that was mentioned in our ride notes. The rain got progressively heavier as we waited and eventually we decided that "meeting" really meant "meet in the lobby to pick up the rented bikes then start riding." So, we set out.

This "setting out" was not what you are probably thinking. It was very late in the morning and, given the weather, we had some concerns about the suggested 80 mile route. But we thought we would give it a go and left the hotel in a now dumping rain making it difficult to see, among other things. There was considerable uncertainty as to how to actually get out of town so when we reached the train station, we huddled and decided to plot our own course, a shorter, more direct route. We went back by the hotel then finally out of town, John having done a remarkable job of navigating.

Wandering around (black) and finally getting out of town (red)
I know it is said that "Not all who wander are lost." But sometimes they are!

Once we got going, things smoothed out. The rain stopped after about an hour and the rest of the morning was cloudy and cool but dry. We figured out our route by looking at towns between Alessandria and Acqui then loading a route into our GPS units connecting them.

After 15 miles on gently rolling terrain, we turned off onto a narrow, winding rural road. And we went UP. The climb alternated between 8% and 14 % with only a few 5% respites. It was a foreshadowing of things to come. At the top of this first climb, we managed to find an open restaurant in the town of Mombaruzzo where we enjoyed the first of many marvelous on-the-road meals. It was a nice, white-table-cloth kind of place, so we offered to sit outside, being somewhat disheveled as we were. But the proprietor would not hear of it and personally ushered us in.

Mombaruzzo - the first of many towns situated at the end of long climbs
After a leisurely meal we set out for Acqui. This leg started with a really nice descent, but there would be another climb, this one starting right out with a stretch of 10% to 14%. It was, though, a beautiful road and the weather had continued to improve, now turning sunny and warmer.

Across the valley from the second climb of the day
Yes, we sampled a few ...
After a bit over three miles of climbing, we dropped down into Acqui Terme, stopping to admire evidence of the early Roman infrastructure before making our way to the Hotel Roma Imperiale, situated across the Bormida River.

Remnants of an aqueduct in Acqui Terme
It was not the easiest of days and there were things to not enjoy. But, in the spirit of cycling, it was challenging and we arrived at our destination not too much the worse for wear and with a few more stories to tell.

Lessons Learned
The CGY ride got off to a great start. The Piedmont ride was a bit more of a challenge. Of course, as has been pointed often by a distinguished panel of British philosophers ...

"You can't always get what you want.  ..."

The panel
But there were some similarities. For example, both tours required us to get ourselves from one town to the next. In each case, this required some effort, a bit more in Italy to be sure. This, too, was addressed by our panel:

"...   But if you try sometimes you find you get what you need."

Sometimes, you need to try really hard!

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